The first time I saw New York City, I cried tears of joy. I was nineteen years old and I had my whole life packed into one battered suitcase and a backpack that was ripping at the seams. I started bawling the moment I saw the Manhattan skyline, ripping savagely from the Jersey City horizon. I was so caught up in the intangible everything of my dreams that I couldn’t help myself. I could’ve drowned in all the hope I had inside me that day.
That skyline represented everything to me. It meant escaping Texas and everyone that had tried to hold me back. It meant having the opportunity to be something other than a school teacher, or a housewife, or just another empty soul stuck complaining about a town they hate, but will never leave. (Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a housewife or a school teacher, but those shouldn’t be a woman’s only options.) For me, the idea of spending my entire life in a small town was about as appealing as asphyxiating on a Texas flag.
I’d had eighteen years of pretending to care about trucks with lift kits, country music, and Copenhagen light. I’d had enough. When my senior year of high school rolled around, I made up my mind about Texas. I was going to apply exclusively to out of state schools and take my chances with big city living.
You can imagine my excitement when two years later my efforts had come to fruition and I found myself in a friend’s car, listening to Alicia Keys’s Empire State of Mind, and seeing skyscrapers for the first time in my life. It was pure unadulterated ecstasy. If the car had flown off the edge of the bridge at that second I probably would’ve died happy, marveling at the One World Trade Center up until the end.
The week that followed was pure bliss. Sunshine seeped out of my every pore. I did all the typical NYU things and embraced the buzz of Greenwich Village with open arms and eyes. I sat in Washington Square Park and read collections of beat poetry. I wore long bohemian skirts that dragged on the floor and drank $8 Fair trade cold brewed coffees. I listened to self-proclaimed “indie” artists and ate vegan organic salads. It was the start of a beautiful, albeit inauthentic, life of golden possibility and uninhibited wonder. I saw the world in a way that only the blindly optimistic could and I loved it. Every second of it.
However, that pristine idea of New York quickly faded. The overpriced coffee lost its feeling of hipster sophistication and instead just seemed economically infeasible. I began to notice the little details about the city that started to drive me insane, like the rancid garbage fragrance that coated the streets and the constant battle for space against the manspreaders on the subway. Eventually summer faded and I had to buy a real winter coat for the first time in my life. I learned the hard way that Seasonal Affective Disorder is, in fact, a real condition. I found myself dwelling on the minutia that by then had become everything. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I had come to hate New York and all the hearts it broke.
Until a few weeks ago, I would cry almost everyday about how much I despised New York City and how much I missed my hometown. I felt trapped in my 200 square foot apartment and all the Greenwich Village hipsters started to make me sick. I’d look at them in their stupid Hawaiian shirts and thick rimmed glasses and ask “does this guy even read that Marx book he totes around? Or is it just another prop to make him seem well read and ironically nonconformist?”
I hated everything about the city. The constant sirens, the 50 degree chill of early June, the absurd wall Street wealth contrasted with the people wandering lost and homeless through the streets. The gentrification pissed me off, the overpriced delis annoyed me, and the “if you’re not doing me a service then I don’t want you” attitude of the residents made me feel so helplessly alone. I wanted to throw myself out the tallest window of one the skyscrapers I was so obsessed with a year earlier.
Once again, I was begging for an escape. It felt like I was trying to break up with the city. Yet, even when my fury and loathing reached a peak, I still felt tied to New York. I knew I had to stay and finish my senior year at NYU, otherwise I would have wasted 6 digit figures on an incomplete degree. Considering all the sacrifices that my family had made for me to chase my dreams here, quitting simply wasn’t option.
With this in mind, I realized I needed a change in mindset, rather than a change in scenery. This epiphany, however mediocre, came to me as I was on a bus home from my office in Staten Island. I was crossing the Verrazano Bridge, looking out at the Manhattan skyline once again, seeing it from an entirely different angle. Yet, even with all the malice I’d come to harbor for the city, I felt that same sense of wonder that filled my head when I first saw those skyscrapers nearly three years ago. It was beautiful. Not perfect, but at the very least worth looking at and appreciating. In that moment I felt an overwhelming desire to return that ridiculously optimistic outlook on the city. I wanted to be happy with my life and where I lived again.
I saw my relationship with the city splayed out across the rooftops. I loved New York from the first moment I saw it. I hated New York from the moment I realized that living in Manhattan wasn’t going to be like an episode of Gossip Girl. I missed my New York as I watched it pass from the Verrazano bridge. Although it would be impossible and unwise to return to my previous ignorant positivity, I missed the image of the city I had cultivated in my mind and fed with Frank Sinatra songs and American Dream ideals. With all that in mind, I decided to work on learning to love reality, instead of an imaginary version of the city.
There is so much to be grateful for in this city. From the gleam of Manhattan lights reflected on the Hudson, to the endless questionable dollar slices one could consume as they stumble through the Lower East Side, to the myriad museums, restaurants, and hidden gems begging to be explored. Sure, New York will still have its flaws, but I’m gonna try to love it anyway.